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End on a good note

When training a dog, it can be tricky to know when to stop. In a session with a trainer, you will have a set time allotted to you, but if you’re alone and training your dog, how do you know when you’ve done enough?

No matter what you’re working on, it’s important to be able to recognise when to take a step back – ending the session earlier than you had planned could do far more for your dog than continuing to push the matter!

For example, when I used to run my terrier Rusty at agility, I really learned how to be more in tune with her. The classes were an hour, but we weren’t training for all of that time – there was plenty of time for her to settle and be made a fuss of in between runs while we watched the other dogs. Usually after these short breaks she’d leap back into it, raring to go.

Occasionally however, if we’d been working on particularly challenging sequences, she would be just that little bit less enthusiastic. If I had asked her to keep going in these moments, she would still have tried for me, but by doing this I would have been risking her having a negative experience: if she was starting to tire physically, she might trip, and if she was tiring mentally, she might become confused by what was being asked of her.

By taking a step back and not joining in with the end of the class, we could make sure that Rusty had ended on a really positive note, and that she never felt that she was being pushed beyond what was comfortable.

The same applies to any kind of training. If you are working through a behavioural problem, this is particularly relevant – if the dog is learning to overcome a specific fear or anxiety, finishing after a short, positive session is far more beneficial than persevering and risking the dog going over its stress threshold.

Dogs have good and bad days, just like people, so even if you don’t feel you’ve achieved anything, sometimes it is better just to stop rather than continuing to force the issue. Similarly, consider your dog as an individual and take into account their breed, age and the environment you’re working in – a young puppy will struggle to stay focused, so short, snappy sessions are best, and if you’ve moved your training from your garden to the park, your dog is bound to be more distracted.

By building an understanding of your dog and ending your sessions on a good note, you can cultivate a positive vibe for your training in which they are always eager and keen to learn.

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